Herbal Treats

Herbal Smoking Mixtures Workshop

We present an Herbal Smoking Mixtures Workshop about twice a year. You can purchase a downloadable recording of the last workshop here.

Herbal Smoking Mixtures Part 1

by Howie Brounstein


I became an adult immersed in the counter-culture of the Pacific Northwest. As a teacher, wildcrafter, herbalist, and botanist for more than a decade, many unique herbs have passed through my hands.
It was only a matter of time before I tried to smoke them, to see how I might mix different herbs for varying psychological and physiological effects.
After my knowledge and experience grew, I began teaching a lecture titled “Herbal Smoking Mixtures: Local Legal Roots, Barks, and Leaves, and Flowers.” This class was very popular. Many more people will show up to a class titled “Herbal Smoking Mixtures” than will for “Medicinal Herbs for the Lungs.” Perhaps this is a sign of the wild North American society I live in. Perhaps it’s a sign that humans have been intrigued with the idea of fire and smoking since the earliest of our race’s memory.
Smoking is a synthesis of fire and smoke, such powerful archetypal images. Perhaps it’s just a fad, and means nothing at all. Nonetheless, I have expanded my lecture, and after smoking many a pipe full over this computer keyboard, produced this book.

It doesn’t cover every possible herb. It is a starting point for your own explorations into the world of herbs and smoke. Take this knowledge and run with it, make it your own, create you own herbal stories to tell. I hope this helps you in your quest for a satisfying legal alternative to Tobacco or Marijuana, or perhaps the perfect ceremonial blend.

I am a smoker, and I am writing from the viewpoint of a smoker. If you don’t smoke anything regularly, my suggestion is don’t start. Smoking every day on a regular basis is never healthy. Occasional use of smoking herbs, or even Tobacco, is not very damaging. It’s our trend towards making it a habit in excess that becomes the problem.

Many of the plants described in this book are difficult, if not impossible, to find on the commercial herb market. These need to be gathered in the wild (wildcrafted), or garden grown. Wildcrafting requires skill and practice. It requires a positive identification.
If you are not sure of the plant, or if you are not sure how to harvest wild plants ethically, DON’T wildcraft.
Seek one of the many fine teachers available to obtain the necessary skills first.

Why Smoke?

There are many reasons why people smoke Tobacco, Marijuana, and other herbal mixtures. Here are but a few reasons:

Recreation: Some folks find the act of smoking and its effects pleasurable. Sometimes they are just bending under a social pressure (it’s cool to smell like an ashtray). Some herbs taste good when smoked. Certainly, an oral fixation, or some subconscious early childhood memories of mom’s nipples, contribute to constant smoking.

Addiction: Recreational use of Tobacco can lead to the dreaded addiction so prevalent in the world today. Tobacco has firmly ingrained itself in every culture in the world it has been introduced to, except for a few religious sects. Don’t let the advertisement fool you; the Marlboro man is an addict. It is very hard for most people to stop on their own. Marijuana is not physically addicting, but there are a few folks who smoke every day and form an emotional dependence on it.

Tobacco and Marijuana Alternatives: There are numerous reasons not to smoke Tobacco, health reasons not a small factor. It may be social pressure (it’s so cool not to smell like an ashtray). A satisfying replacement for Tobacco is like the search for the holy grail. Many will look for it and come close, but nothing will be exactly like it. Have you heard the mythical story of the sage herbalist, quite a wise and aromatic fellow? After years of spiritual purification he finally found the proper herbs and curing process to make the perfect Tobacco-like smoking mixture substitute. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter he became fully enlightened and gave up smoking completely. The formula was lost forever.

Many people smoke marijuana for a variety of reasons, but wish not to. It may not agree with their constitution; it may not give them the effects they’re looking for. The fact that it is selectively illegal and semi-legal in some places might contribute to the desire to quit. The biggest reason I see people wanting to quit is drug testing. In the Pacific Northwest, these tests are very popular with employers. Even workers who are not responsible for welfare of others are tested. Evidently, occasional weekend use of marijuana might impair the judgment of janitors, domestic workers at hotels, and the check-out clerks in the local market.

Medicine: There are a variety of medicinal uses of smoking mixtures. One can use calming or tranquilizing herbs to relax physically or mentally.
Some herbs can be smoked for calming the lungs or to aid in expectoration. The difference between poison and medicine is dosage; smoking a strong herb is one way to regulate its dosage.

Spiritual and Ceremonial Uses: Throughout history people have taken (and smoked) herbs to produce altered states of consciousness. Although some in modern times seek hallucinogens for pure recreation, many still use these plants respectfully on the journey for spiritual knowledge. Even the milder herbs are useful during meditation and vision quests. Smoking is a ritual, and the more conscious we are of it, the more we will get from it. It is such a powerful mixture of fire and air.

Preparation of Herbs into Palatable Smoking Mixtures

A number of factors contribute to making a palatable smoking mixture. First and foremost is the way you cure the herbs. If you take fresh Tobacco and dry it like any medicinal herb, it becomes an unpalatable obnoxious smoke that the most hard-core smoker couldn’t stomach (or lung, as the case may be). Tobacco is semi-dried slowly, allowing for chemical changes, and is never dried to a crisp. It is packaged slightly moist in air tight containers. If it dries out, the smoker adds an apple slice or sprays it with water. Dried out Tobacco is harsh.

Herbal smoking blends are similar. In most cases you do not want the herbs to be dried crispy. It’s OK for some of the ingredients, but as a whole the mixture should be ever so slightly moist. Some of the most flavorful smoking ingredients need to dry slow, and cure, but the majority are best picked fresh and not dried completely. Package in an airtight container.

Most store-bought herbs are too dry for a pleasant smoke and taste harsh. If you use herbs that are too dry, try spraying your mixture lightly with water. Mix it thoroughly and let sit in an airtight container to let the moisture travel throughout the herbs.
Experiment with the liquid. Try adding an apple slice or honey. You can always let the herbs air dry if they get too moist to burn properly.

Another factor is the consistency of the mixture. The herbs should be well mixed and burn evenly. If you are using a pipe to smoke, this is not quite as important. The mixture can have small pieces of stems and roots without problems. If you plan to roll the herbs in cigarette papers, this becomes very important. Even small stems will poke holes in the paper. Remove all the stems. Powder or finely chop the slower burning roots and hard herbs.

Some herbs are especially helpful to obtain the proper physical consistency of the mixture. By far the best physical base for a smoking mixture is Mullein. When prepared correctly, it is light and puffy. The other herbs mix well into it, and it will burn evenly when lit. It is a good carrier of the other substances. You can also use finely shredded barks. Thin slices or inner barks of plants like dogwood and willow should be finely cut into long strips, much like fine Virginian Tobacco. This can be difficult to do, but it works well.

Certain plants need to be rubbed before use. Mullein and Mugwort don’t become fluffy until you take the herbs in your hands and rub them. Keep rubbing until the herb becomes light and puffy.
Sometimes I put the Mullein in a blender before mixing. It becomes even more fluffy, but it lacks the personal touch hand rubbing gives.

Finally, the amounts and kinds of flavoring herbs you use will change the palatability. You need to just play with it until you get it right. Unfortunately, most commercially available herbal smoking blends don’t properly prepare, cure, and package the herbs.
They often have good recipes,and I have to assume the manufacturers have the best intentions but lack of resources or knowledge. Some are still good enough to smoke. Very few rival even the simplest hand picked, rubbed and/or cured, and semi-dried do it yourself mix.

©1995HB This file may be reprinted and distributed freely as long as it remains unchanged and with this header attached.
Text versions of this work are available for downloading from this site or at Sunsite or its mirrors.

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